What Medvedev Didn't Say
I have to admit that I didn't remember the passage from Alexis de Tocqueville that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev cited in his Monday oped in The Post, written in anticipation of today's meeting with President Obama. Now a friend has helpfully sent me the passage -- which both confirms Medvedev's account and explains why he may not have wanted to quote it in full.
Here's what Medvedev said:
“Long ago, Alexis de Tocqueville predicted a great future for our two nations. So far, each country has tried to prove the truth of those words to itself and the world by acting on its own. I firmly believe that at this turn of history, we should work together.”
In “Democracy in America,” de Tocqueville did, indeed, single out America and Russia as "marked out by the will of heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe." But he also saw them rising in very different ways, with this being the starkest distinction: "The principal instrument of the former is freedom; of the latter, servitude."
I do not believe any nation's future is absolutely determined by its past, nor by its culture. I think Russia will be a democracy someday. But with today's presidential meeting in London coming just hours after the brutal beating in Moscow of yet another human rights activist, the courageous Lev Ponomaryov, 67, it is hard not to think that de Tocqueville was on to something 170 years ago. And despite Obama's hope that today's meeting represented "the beginning of new progress" in US-Russia relations, there's no question that the potential for progress is inhibited by Russia's steady regression from its democratic reforms of the 1990s.
Here, for you de Tocqueville buffs, is his passage on the United States and Russia:
“There are at the present time two great nations in the world, which started from different points, but seem to tend towards the same end. I allude to the Russians and the Americans. Both of them have grown up unnoticed; and while the attention of mankind was directed elsewhere, they have suddenly placed themselves in the front rank among the nations, and the world learned their existence and their greatness at almost the same time.
“All other nations seem to have nearly reached their natural limits, and they have only to maintain their power; but these are still in the act of growth. All the others have stopped, or continue to advance with extreme difficulty; these alone are proceeding with ease and celerity along a path to which no limit can be perceived. The American struggles against the obstacles that nature opposes to him; the adversaries of the Russian are men. The former combats the wilderness and savage life; the latter, civilization with all its arms. The conquests of the American are therefore gained by the plowshare; those of the Russian by the sword. The Anglo-American relies upon personal interest to accomplish his ends and gives free scope to the unguided strength and common sense of the people; the Russian centers all the authority of society in a single arm. The principal instrument of the former is freedom; of the latter, servitude. Their starting point is different and their courses are not the same; yet each of them seems marked out by the will of heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe.”
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